Sherilyn Emberton – Ron Coffey: The Working Relationship Between a University President and the Vice President for Student Life

“Anything that touches the campus touches student life.” -Dr. Sherilyn Emberton

Today’s episode is the first of several conversations I’ll be having with the president of a nonprofit and one of their key executives.

Over the years, I’ve been privileged to work with more than 35 colleges, universities, and seminaries in the search for their next president.  Several of the presidents have asked me to help them recruit men and women to lead in the areas of advancement, academic affairs, student life, and enrollment management.  

A few months ago, I was discussing our Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership podcast with a friend and she suggested that interviewing the president and a key senior executive of the leadership team would be a great teaching tool for educators aspiring to senior leadership.

So today, I want to go behind the scenes and get a look at the working relationship between a University President and the Vice President for Student Life.

Our guests today are Dr. Sherilyn Emberton, President at Huntington University, and Dr. Ron Coffee, the Vice President for Student Life at Huntington.

I hope you enjoy my conversation with Dr. Emberton and Dr. Coffee as they discuss their philosophy on managing senior leadership teams.

Thanks again for listening to Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas and be sure to share this episode with the nonprofit board members and aspiring educators looking to advance into senior leadership you know.  

And don’t forget to leave us a review wherever you’re listening.  It really helps us!


“You can still strive for the win-win when possible, but realize at the end of the day, the institution must go forward.” -Dr. Ron Coffey

Show Notes

[2:22] – Tommy introduces us to our guests, Dr. Sherilyn Emberton and Dr. Ron Coffey. 

[3:33] – We learn about Huntington University.

[5:30] – Sherilyn describes what awaited her and what she inherited when she came to the university.

[7:03] – Ron reveals why the cabinet was curious during the first few months of Sherilyn’s presidency.

[8:04] – The philosophy of staff leadership, according to Sherilyn.

[10:10] – Sherilyn tells us about a time when she was frustrated and what led her to change how she interacted with Student Life. 

[12:40] – COVID-19 tested the crisis management of Huntington University.  Here’s how.

[14:29] – Sherilyn explains why some of Huntington University’s tragedies were more personnel-driven.

[16:18] – Ron discusses how his role as Vice President of Student Life changed since working with Sherilyn.

[17:51] – Sherilyn tells us she had to rethink divisional oversight during COVID-19.

[19:42] – We learn how Sherilyn manages leadership teams.

[21:53] – Meeting with senior leadership was new and welcomed for Ron and the rest of the leadership staff.

[23:32] – Sherilyn takes a moment to identify her own blindspots.

[25:49] – We hear from Ron about what he believes his own blindspots are. 

[27:49] – Coming from the private sector into higher education impacted Sherilyn’s management style.

[29:55] – An opportunity became available for being the Director of Teacher Education and Sherilyn explains how she turned 33 students to 1,900 while in that role.

[31:20] – The pros and cons of coming up through the student development track and business and provost track.

[33:15] – Sherliyn believes she would have been hindered if she had not served under a president who came from Student Life.

[35:14] – What does Sherilyn wish she learned about leadership earlier in her career?

[36:50] – Ron shares his insights on the lessons he wishes he learned earlier in his career.

[39:14] – There is no clear path to the senior level, according to Sherilyn.

“”The biggest change for me has been realigning and rethinking who should be at the table, who should be getting oversight for what’s on the table, and how can we share those responsibilities better.” -Dr. Sherilyn Emberton

Links and Resources

JobfitMatters – Website


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